Harcourts' latest move: Office 365

New technology platforms were needed to support our plan to operate in 100 countries, says CIO Jason Willls.

Harcourts International is tapping the cloud to support its goal to become the number one real estate franchise in the world.

Harcourts has announced it is rolling out email, communication and collaboration tools like Yammer from Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365.

The plan in the next two decades is to be operating in 100 countries, but we realised we needed new technology platforms to cope with this transition, says Harcourts CIO Jason Wills.

Harcourts started in 1888 as a single shop in Wellington. It now has more than 790 offices and over 5200 sales consultants in eight countries, including Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, China, Hong Kong, South Africa and the United States.

The key is to make sure you work through a solid due diligence period and look at all the options available.

Jason Wills, Harcourts International

The current systems were unable to cope with the demands of clients and internal users who were moving from desktop to mobile use.

Read more: Switched on CIO: Simon Clarke of Trustpower

“With the lack of storage available we are constantly pushing the boundaries of our current system," says Wills on the drivers for the move. "We are getting so large, especially in New Zealand and Australia, there is so much data that’s on the email server that we can’t even back up any more.”

Related: Les Mills International: <i>The cloud is redefining the concept of a global company like LMI, the largest provider of branded group fitness and training programs.</i></b>

Last year, Harcourts worked with CloudFirst, a cloud solution provider which specialises in franchising, and Microsoft to move them to a more advanced collaboration platform, he states.

When fully operational, Harcourt’s franchisees will be able to cut travel costs by using Lync for videoconferencing, and potentially using it as part of websites to chat with online clients.

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Franchisees will also be able to access unlimited file storage in OneDrive for Business on any device, and take the latest version of Microsoft Office on their PCs and mobile devices.

Global address

Harcourts currently has physical servers in Johannesburg, Sydney, Christchurch, Chicago, Hong Kong and China, but is now in the process of moving to Microsoft Azure in the United States.

As the physical servers start to get dated, we will just retire them and put everything up into the Azure cloud.

The US will be the first country that we push our infrastructure into the cloud, he says. As the physical servers start to get dated, "we will just retire them and put everything up into the Azure cloud.”

“The key is to make sure you work through a solid due diligence period and look at all the options available,” says Wills on a key lesson he can share with CIOs.

"Talking with fellow CIOs and IT managers has been extremely helpful and given us a really good steer on how to nail the rollout plan."

He is applying the same approach in the move to Azure. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my CIO peer group, asking for their feedback and how we can transition with the least amount of pain.”

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Read more: ‘Breakthrough industry collaboration’ leads to NZ’s first mobile wallet

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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